Before Terry and Reid, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services
Petitioner, Carole Proctor, seeks review of a decision of the Department of Employment Services ("DOES") denying her claim for workers' compensation as untimely. According to Proctor, the hearing examiner's finding that she was on notice that her employer, the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists ("Gencon"), had filed a report of her injury was not supported by substantial evidence. She claims that she was not aware that Gencon had filed the report until the day she submitted her claim to DOES. Relying on our decision in Harris v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services, 592 A.2d 1014 (D.C. 1991) ("Harris I"), she argues that the one-year statute of limitations for workers' compensation claims, D.C. Code § 36-314 (a) (1997), was tolled until she had notice that Gencon had filed the injury report with DOES. *fn1
We agree with petitioner that the hearing examiner's finding that she had notice that Gencon had filed a report of injury shortly after the accident was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. We remand the case to the Director of DOES, however, to determine a different issue. In rendering their decisions, both the hearing examiner and the Director of DOES relied on Harris I, in which we held that the one-year statute of limitations under the District of Columbia Workers' Compensation Act ("WCA"), D.C. Code § 36-314 (a), does not begin to run until a copy of the employer's injury report is sent to the injured employee. *fn2 However, neither the Director, the hearing examiner, nor the parties showed any awareness that Harris I had been vacated in Harris v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services, 648 A.2d 672 (D.C. 1994) ("Harris II"), three years before the hearing examiner issued the compensation order in this case. Because our decision in Harris I was no longer binding on the agency, the Director erred when she relied on that decision without at least noting that it had been vacated and without explaining why she had nevertheless adopted the reasoning of Harris I. We therefore remand the case to the Director to decide de novo whether the reasoning in Harris I is correct and to provide an explanation of her decision in Ms. Proctor's case. If the Director independently adopts the reasoning of Harris I, then this case must go back to the hearing examiner to determine when Ms. Proctor had notice of Gencon's report.
In April of 1988 Ms. Proctor worked as a clerk-secretary for Gencon. As she was leaving work on April 22, Ms. Proctor tripped on a metal grate on her way to the parking lot. She twisted her right knee and right ankle as she fell to the ground and visibly lacerated her left knee. She also injured her right hand and back in the fall.
Either that same day or the next business day, Ms. Proctor informed a member of Gencon's personnel department, Jenny Stevenson, of the fall and the injuries she sustained. On May 2 Ms. Stevenson completed a report of the injury and filed it with DOES. The report contained a signature purporting to be Ms. Proctor's, but at the hearing Proctor denied that she had signed it. According to Proctor, Ms. Stevenson did not tell her anything about filing a claim for workers' compensation.
From the date of the fall until May 24, 1990, when Ms. Proctor's treating physician released her from his care, Gencon made voluntary payments for medical benefits. However, after May 24, Ms. Proctor continued to experience pain in her right knee and lower back which she attributed to the fall. When she sought treatment for the pain, Gencon refused to pay the additional medical expenses.
Several months later Ms. Proctor sought the services of an attorney, Deborah Fajer. *fn3 According to Proctor, she first became aware of the employer's report on March 18, 1991, when Ms. Fajer told her about it. On that same day Ms. Proctor filed her claim for workers' compensation with DOES.
At a hearing in March 1996, Ms. Proctor testified on her own behalf; Gencon did not present any witnesses. The hearing examiner in due course issued a compensation order denying Ms. Proctor's claim for benefits as untimely under D.C. Code § 36-314 (a). Although he found that Ms. Proctor had not signed the employer's report of injury despite the presence of her purported signature on it, he did find that she had signed the Employee's Claim Application and the Employee's Notice of Injury, which were both filed with DOES on March 18, 1991. On the basis of the latter documents and her admission that she had seen the employer's report, the hearing examiner concluded that Ms. Proctor knew of the relationship between her injury and her employment no later than May 2, 1988, and that she therefore had until May 1, 1989, to file a claim for medical benefits. Because she did not file her claim until March 18, 1991, the hearing examiner denied it as untimely. The Director of DOES affirmed that decision. Ms. Proctor now seeks review in this court.
Ms. Proctor maintains that the hearing examiner's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. She asserts that, although she did not file her claim until approximately three years after she fell, her claim is not barred by the one-year statute of limitations *fn4 because she did not have notice that her employer had filed a report of the injury with DOES. She relies on Harris I, in which we held "that until the employee has notice that the employer's report has been filed with [DOES], the limitations period of § 36-314 (a) cannot begin to run." 592 A.2d at 1017. The statute does not expressly require such notice, but we concluded that such a requirement was "consistent with the humanitarian purposes of the [Workers' Compensation] Act." Id.
Also relying on Harris I, the hearing examiner agreed with Ms. Proctor that the one-year statute of limitations was tolled until she had notice that Gencon had filed the employer's report of injury with DOES. Nevertheless, the examiner held that her claim was untimely because he found that Ms. Proctor had seen the employer's report of May 2, 1988, and that she was therefore aware of the relationship between her injury and her employment no later than that day. The Director affirmed the hearing examiner's decision, finding substantial evidence in the record to support it. Like the examiner, the Director cited Harris I approvingly without noting that the decision had been vacated in 1994 and was no longer binding precedent. See Harris II, 648 A.2d at 673 (vacating Harris I); Washington Hospital Center v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Services, 712 A.2d 1018, 1019 (D.C. 1998) (stating that Harris I is no longer binding). The Director did not explain why she was ...